More Sports / Tennis

Naomi Osaka overpowers 'favorite player' Serena Williams in Miami Open first round

Kyodo, AP

Naomi Osaka followed her first career title by knocking former world No. 1 Serena Williams out of the Miami Open in straight sets Wednesday.

Fresh from winning Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open final, the 20-year-old Osaka did not concede a break point on her way to beating childhood idol Williams 6-3, 6-2 in the opening round.

On the comeback trail following the birth of her first child, Williams looked some way off regaining the form that earned her 72 WTA singles titles, including eight in Miami.

Williams has been eliminated in the first round only four other times, most recently at the 2012 French Open.

She hit 28 unforced errors to just 16 winners as she exited the tournament before the fourth round for the first time, according to the WTA website. Osaka, meanwhile, hit 18 winners and seven aces as she rode her powerful first serve to victory in 1 hour, 17 minutes.

Miami Open tournament director James Blake earlier in the week urged a rethink of the WTA tour’s seeding rules that paired Williams with rising star Osaka in the opening round after she dropped to 491 in the rankings during her 13-month maternity absence.

Osaka, who jumped 22 places to No. 22 following her victory at Indian Wells, spoke of her admiration for Williams after the match, saying she “wanted to impress” the player who inspired her to pursue a tennis career.

“I was extremely nervous coming on to the court. I don’t know if anybody knows this, but Serena is my favorite player,” Osaka said in her post-match interview on court. “Just playing against her is kind of like a dream for me, so I’m very grateful that I was able to play her, and it’s even better that I was able to win.”

Osaka admitted still feeling star-struck when Williams congratulated her on the win.

“I kind of blanked out. I’m pretty sure she said, ‘good job,’ ” Osaka told a news conference. “It’s weird when you grow up watching someone and wanting to be exactly like them, and then you have the chance to play them.”

Osaka added: “She’s the main reason why I started playing tennis. I’ve seen her on TV so many times and I’ve always been cheering for her.

So for me to play against her and just sort of trying to detach myself a little bit from thinking that I’m playing against her, and just try to think I’m playing against just a regular opponent, was a little bit hard for me.”

The match ended with Williams grinning at the net. She saved her worst shot for last, and after a rare first-round defeat she had to laugh.

On the final point, Williams thundered forward to attack an easy shot at eye level, whacked the ball 1.8 meters past the baseline and responded with a sheepish smile.

Not that motherhood has mellowed Williams. She left without talking to the media.

Osaka is 14-4 this year and will meet No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina in the second round. The two have split their four career meetings.

Also Wednesday, another new mother and former No. 1, three-time champion Victoria Azarenka, defeated Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig topped Australia’s Sam Stosur 6-3, 6-4.

In men’s first-round action, the Netherlands’ Robin Haase eliminated Yuichi Sugita, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. The Dutchman served eight aces to Sugita’s one as he wrapped up their first meeting in one hour, 51 minutes. Matthew Ebden of Australia prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5 against France’s Gilles Simon, and American Jared Donaldson defeated Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, 6-3, 6-4.

World No. 43 Sugita, who climbed in the rankings last year after starting outside the top 100, said he felt the effects of a busy schedule as he faded in the third set after fighting back to win the second.

“I lost because I couldn’t raise the level of my play in the third set,” Sugita said. “I feel as though my energy level has dropped.”

Seeded players were scheduled to be in action starting on Thursday.

The tournament is moving next year to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, where Williams helped with the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday.